Getting your sales and marketing folks on the same page

Google the term "sales and marketing Alignment" and you'll get over 3 million results. Obviously, there is lots already written on this topic (this post by Craig Rosenberg of Funnelholic is one of my favourites). A lot of the discussion centres around having both sales and marketing agree on definitions of leads at different stages (sales-qualified lead, sales accepted lead, etc...) as well as agreeing on how to measure programs.

We all know what we need to do to get sales and marketing alignment, so why isn't it happening in so many companies, and in companies where it is working, what are they doing that their peers are not?

In one word: Culture

My first job out of university was a marketing assistant position with a large global consumer products company. For the first 6 months, I spent 3 days a week on the road, visiting customers, influencers and distributors, often together with one of our best sales reps. This wasn't a make-work project. This was part of the company's DNA, to ensure sales and marketing were tightly coupled. Spending that much time with my sales counterpart made me look at my marketing role as an extension of sales and vice versa, not as completely separate functions.

So, what can you do as a startup marketer to create this culture of collaboration inside your company? In my experience, it boils down to formal and informal activities:

Formal ways to align sales and marketing

  • Physically locate sales and marketing together. Where is your desk/office? Where does the sales team sit? Sitting together or next to each other makes it really easy to stick your head in someone's office for a quick question or to overhear useful snippets of conversation.
  • Work the phones. Talk to your sales team about sitting in on calls or go with them to customer meetings or face to face events. But don't get in the way - let sales drive the bus. Your purpose is to observe and listen.
  • Include sales in your planning meetings. Every month or quarter, depending on how often you plan your marketing sprints, give sales a seat at the table. Hear firsthand what they are hearing from customers, where they are getting stuck in the sales process or what programs fell flat and why.
  • Share reports. Don't make sales wait for a quarterly review meeting to see results of your efforts. Give them a real-time (or close to real-time) view of what's happening as a result of marketing programs. Products like Hubspot do this out of the box, or you can simply send/post a weekly recap of key marketing metrics, trends and themes you are seeing, even a snippet from a social media conversation that sales would find useful.
  • Use sales as your beta tester. Before you put out that new email campaign, let a couple of your best sales folks take a sneak peek. You may catch some things that you'll want to change, or even if you don't, you will have a few champions inside the sales team who will help their team members support your initiatives.
  • Make technology the great enabler. There are so many great tools out there to foster collaboration between colleagues - everything from an intranet where marketing assets are shared, tagged and discussed, to products like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter that provide a forum for online conversations between sales and marketing.

Informal ways to align sales and marketing

It feels silly to even write this but surprisingly, marketing and sales folks often don't even talk to each other, certainly not in any kind of meaningful way. When was the last time you took a sales rep out for lunch a beer? Did you know that your VP of Sales loves fly fishing or that her dog just died? If not, you're doing something wrong. Jason Stirman of Medium shares an amazing example of how he resolves conflict between members of his team:

“I’d hear that someone on my team had a problem with someone on another team that brought everything to a standstill – just because they didn’t like each other. I thought, what if I just got them in a room together and we all talked about everything except the problem at hand? When we did, we got some casual conversation going, they discovered some similarities, and by the end of the hour they were talking about how to solve their issues. This was a conflict that literally kept me up at night, and as soon as there was space for them to connect as people, it was fixed. I thought, holy crap, this is a super power.”

This approach would work to bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams as well. As a marketer, when you start thinking of your sales colleagues as people and not adversaries, you'll be surprised at how this can change the dynamics at work. This isn't easy to do and maybe you can't befriend every single person but with some work and persistance, you can put things in motion to create this collaborative culture.

I'm hoping to get some sales folks to weigh in on this as I'm writing from a marketer's perspective. Leave your comments below or share an anecdote from your own experience.